Jordan Gatzke & Autism Assist Dog Waylon
A visitor walking down the hallway of a typical junior high school would be met with a variety of interesting sights—young people expressing themselves through creative haircuts or through T-shirts offering personal philosophies, emboldened with a sarcastic font. But what a visitor might not be prepared for is the sight of a black Lab sauntering down the hallway, tethered to the wrist of an 8th-grade boy. Jordon Gatzke and his Autism Assist Dog Waylon are one such sight in the hallways of Maple Grove Junior High School.
Jordan and Waylon graduated from Can Do Canines in 2010 and the four-legged companion has been helping Jordan and his family achieve greater independence ever since. Jordan has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and was a risk to himself when he was younger, wandering or bolting away from his mother, Tammy, when they were out in public. Even though Jordon still struggles with some “wanderlust,” as Tammy calls it, Waylon has been a great help in preventing Jordon from running away and has made outings with his family much easier.
“I feel so much more confident about going out in public with Jordan. Since we got Waylon, the incidents of Jordan running away are pretty much down to zero,” Tammy says. “He really likes the new arrangement of being tethered to Waylon by a wrist band instead of a belt around the waist.”
Waylon has been going to school with Jordan for the past four years, beginning in 5th grade. Tammy did a lot of preparation to make the situation work well for everyone. She spent time training his paraprofessional, showed a video educating the other teachers about behavior expectations regarding Waylon (ie. no petting!), and even sent informational flyers home to the families of Jordan’s classmates. The elementary school experience was positive for not only Jordan and Waylon, but also for the other children.
“I remember another boy in particular who had frequent meltdowns.” Tammy says “He would calm down as soon as he saw Waylon.”
Tammy admits, however, when it was time to prepare Jordan and Waylon for junior high, it was a little more involved. She met with the school board to work through concerns, such as liability and then with staff and faculty to make sure everyone knew what was expected and to answer questions they might have. Tammy’s careful preparation has meant that seeing Jordan and Waylon walking through the hallways is not a novelty or distraction for the other students at school.
While in school, Jordan has shown he’s very good at math, and it’s one of his favorite subjects. His real gift, however, seems to be music. According to his mother and his music teachers, Jordan has a great natural ability. In fact, Tammy’s guitar teacher discovered that not only could Jordan match the pitches he played, but he could also name the notes in the chords being played. Jordon has absolute pitch (also known as perfect pitch), which is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability to identify a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone. His musical gifts are currently being encouraged and nurtured through piano lessons.
Tammy is proud of the progress Jordan has made and is grateful for the role that Waylon has played in that progress. Even though it’s difficult to say what Jordan might be capable of as he gets older, Tammy knows Waylon will be there every step of the way helping him live as independent a life as possible.
“We just take each day as it comes, and pray for the best,” Tammy says.
Article written by Can Do Canines communications volunteer, Joy Miller.